The Big Brother approach to welfare by the NDP is too intrusive, costs a ton to administer and leaves many people out in the cold – literally.
Winnipeggers are still in shock over the senseless murder of two resourceless men near Portage Avenue during the last week of April. One was living on the street; the other was classed as “vulnerable”, presumably he had a mental illness. This is simply not good enough in a rich and privileged society such as ours.
I remember a time when there was only one known homeless person in Winnipeg. And he actually had a home although it was only a shack he had built out of odds and ends on some abandoned land near the Nairn overpass.
Today in Winnipeg, there are 350 people living in shelters and countless others couch surfing or staying in cheap hotels or in slum housing that is ridden with filth and vermin. The housing allowance on provincial welfare is the same as it has been since 1992 – just $285 a month. The average rent for a low-cost, one-bedroom apartment is around $700; however, the vacancy rate is virtually zero. Even a north-end rooming house runs about $350 a month.
There seems to be no rationale behind the NDP’s refusal to deal with this issue – even in the face of a promise by provincial Progressive Conservative leader, Brian Pallister, to raise the rental allowance to 75 per cent of the median rent, the NDP remains stoically opposed. They claim that they have increased other benefits for “low-income earners” and that some of this can still be accessed if they move off welfare into work.
The program the NDP refers to is the Employment and Income Assistance Program, which is the new and a complicated welfare scheme for people in the city of Winnipeg. It attempts to encourage welfare recipients to go back to work, offering a $100 “working reward”, followed by a limited-time, earnings exemption of $200 a month. (Nice sentiment, but if you are mentally ill this is seldom an option).
There is also a “RentAid Transition Bonus” of up to $110 a month for “single adults (without children) who move from EIA to work”.
The relationship between the recipient and the government is complicated and intrusive. There are meetings to report on your activities and to ensure you aren’t living with someone, clawbacks if you somehow get overpaid and you must include any benefits you might receive or be entitled to from the federal government.
Yet provincial assistance for a single adult is only $656 a month, topped up by $23 federal assistance. Try living on that!
Two adults (a married couple) receive $862, topped up by $44 from the feds, which is only $450 per person ($15 a day).
If you have three kids at the right age, you could receive up to $1,378 from the province, which is fortunately topped up by another $1,150 from the federal government. (The NDP reliance on participation by the feds is somewhat surprising given that welfare is entirely outside the federal constitutional jurisdiction and that the use of the federal spending power to provide direct assistance to individuals was loudly decried by the NDP during the constitutional wars.)
By the way, you may not be eligible for any of the EIA benefits. The program warns that, “If you have recently quit, were fired or refused a job without a good reason, or just cause, your application for EIA may be affected”.
The debilitating effect of living on welfare saps self-esteem and energy. When you are made to feel that low and dependent, it makes it very hard to have the self-confidence to look for or find a job. It must be especially hard for those living alone. Single parents have the incentive of needing to care for their children which gives their days focus, but single individuals lack that focus and have nobody to fall back on for psychological support.
There has to be a better way, a way that provides assistance while leaving the recipients some dignity, that helps people find work rather than simply castigating them for not doing so, a way that offers hope rather than a dead end.
The NDP approach to welfare promotes dependence, regardless of how they try to present it. Instead of turning the funds over to the recipients and allowing people to manage their own affairs, the NDP big brother approach reduces self-esteem and dignity. It is clearly a hand-out as opposed to the hand-up approach espoused by the Conservative leader.
The cost of administering the rules and regulations, of conducting the “interviews”, and prying into personal marital matters is tremendous. The money saved by trying to prevent “abuses” this way is picayune in comparison to what the cost of policing the program is.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people are falling through the cracks, left homeless on the streets, vulnerable to weather and predators. Two dead homeless men may not seem like much to many smug and well-fed citizens, but they are symptomatic of a system that no longer functions, that costs way too much and that pulls us all down to a level of inhumanity that none of us wants to confront.